The passage of time is relative, and the last four years have been easily the longest in my lifetime. It’s difficult today to truly remember the visceral, gripping despair I felt four years ago as our nation turned over the keys to a violent white supremacist bent on self-aggrandizement. I was months away from becoming a husband and step-father for the first time in my life, a joyous, but admittedly intimidating responsibility made all the more serious by the fact that while I am a white man, my wife and children are Black.
As the night of Trump’s election and the following weeks unfolded, I watched as gripping fear began to overcome my wife. We had both worked in politics our entire lives, and in an effort to assuage her fear I unintentionally gaslit her with what I thought were soothing missives about how the various systems in our government would keep this mad man from ever being able to come for her or our kids. In retrospect, there are few things I regret more than my choices in those first few months.
Those choices were symptomatic of the insidiousness of white supremacy culture, and how it reaches all of us. I was propping up this idea that the systems would save us, something Black Americans know all too well isn’t true. Even I, someone who’s spent most of his life in Black spaces, with mostly Black friends, and was marrying a Black woman was not immune from repeating and reinforcing it. The worst part is that at the time I truly felt I was helping calm her fears, rather than realizing how real and worthy of consideration they were.
I was doing real harm and damage to the person I loved most in this world, and although it was fully unintentional; impact is always greater than intent.
By the end of year one, it had become clear that I was wrong. The Republican Party was not going to stand up or hold him accountable in any way, systems were being bypassed with regularity, and racists and neo-Nazis were showing up in full regalia to the grocery store. In Charlottesville, white people marched with torches, confederate flags, and before they left had beaten Black men in the streets and killed a woman with a car; sometimes paranoia is justified.
Over the next two years, we watched as things continued to devolve. The political systems and elected officials I had spent 15 years working in and for were swept aside by waves of vitriolic white nationalism. I began to wonder if it was time to arm ourselves; something I was vehemently opposed to most of my life. Later, my wonder turned into resignation as I purchased my first firearm to protect my family.
Cameras and security systems followed. Fear for my family’s safety became a constant underlying anxiety I lived with all day, every day; the full effects of which to my well being I’ll likely not realize for a long time. We prepared and fortified ourselves as best we could, and resigned ourselves to face whatever could come.
We were lucky. We survived an administration that through rhetoric and action regularly told its citizens that my family was disposable. It’s important to remember a lot of people were not as lucky. Activists in Ferguson and Baltimore continued dying in suspicious ways with alarming regularity. Police murdered George Floyd, and we all watched it happen. 400,000 people died at the hands of leadership that said Science was “fake news” and that masks somehow infringe on freedom.
Joe Biden was not our first pick for President. Had I been given the power to simply pick our next President, Biden would never have made my list. He has sins in his past, particularly surrounding issues of race, that cannot be forgiven by virtue of him simply being “Not Trump”.
But the importance of being “Not Trump” also can’t be overstated. Biden is miles away from us politically, but he’s also miles away (in the right direction) from what we’ve endured these last four years. I watch with understanding and agreement as liberals and leftists rail against all the ways Biden isn’t progressive enough, but the simplest truth is that my kids are safer today under a Biden administration, than they have been for the last four years, and we deserve our sigh of relief in this moment.
Let’s be clear; white supremacy culture and white supremacists aren’t going anywhere. The United States has, since its inception, always been home to a uniquely violent and entitled brand of racism. Joe Biden’s election won’t cure that. A true reckoning with our nation's history on race is long overdue, but that is the work before us and work we can now actually attempt to do; something made impossible while they were emboldened by having one of their own in the white house.
I do believe Joe Biden can be better than we expect. His political career is a long and steady move towards progressive policies, and his cabinet appointees and early rhetoric suggest his attitudes toward issues of race and confronting violent white extremism are genuine. It is incumbent upon all of us as well as his administration to hold him accountable to these promises; something I believe his Vice President, Kamala Harris is uniquely suited to do.
I don’t know any better than anyone else what the next four years will bring. I do know that I am hopeful for the first time in a long time, and it feels incredible. I know that my kids are safer in a world where white supremacy can be denounced from an inaugural podium, where climate change is acknowledged as real and pipeline permits are canceled on day 1, and where my daughter can see a Black woman making history in the second-highest office in the land; and for that I am grateful.